CBRS – To LTE or NOT?

Like many, you have likely been following CBRS, but have yet to dip your toes in the water.  You are wondering about the CBRS spectrum, how it works, and the different use cases for this new spectrum gift from the FCC.  You may also be confused by the different marketing messaging. 

If we step back and take a more holistic perspective, we see that we can distill the vendor messaging and group the vendors into three primary buckets.  Below is a simple approach that may assist you in separating the vendors and their positions, so it enables you to see what is out there and which solution will best fit your needs.  Let us use rail analogies since CBRS is like a freight train, and everyone wants to be on board.

CBRS related vendors sorted into three camps

The Non-LTE camp

These are vendors that do not yet have LTE capabilities with their offerings, so they must sell what they have today.  The vendors in this bucket also likely have a legacy install base of proprietary wireless technology to protect.  These vendors cannot fight progress and evolution and will have to get with the program eventually.  Most vendors in this bucket recognize that they need to evolve to LTE. Still, they must carefully navigate their entry, given any significant installation of existing technology with no LTE expertise yet in R&D, product management, or any LTE customer service & support capabilities.  They will eventually provide an LTE product offering, or they will be left alone at the train station, looking at the speeding bullet that has passed in front of them.  These are the vendors stating – “you do not need LTE now, we are in the middle of a pandemic, and you need to be careful.”  – “you do not need to be moving to LTE now but analyze and prepare a migration.”  This approach makes sense for network owners with a significant legacy install base, as they need time, skills, money, and resources to evolve from older proprietary technology to any of the standard 3GPP LTE 4G/5G/NB-IoT/LTE-M solution.  For some network owners/operators, it makes more sense to sit it out for a bit and develop a plan; it also gives their incumbent vendor time to provide a transition plan. 

The vendors in this camp do not have an LTE “locomotive “and they are not on the LTE train. These vendors locomotives are more like a sea container, they are basically in the middle of the field, and the weeds are growing around them.  Soon they will not be attractive anymore for greenfield deployments. It is important to keep in mind that not every network needs the same solution; it is about needs, environment, timing, and funding. As an example, there is lot of Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) opportunities for those vendors that target the FWA market. With COVID, there is also additional rural broadband funding for FWA players to capture. However, I predict that FWA operators will also come to the same conclusion as the industrial operators, and migrate to mobility as table stake, with or without the financial market pressure to have mobility for enterprise valuation and exit strategy.

One question these vendors want you to ask yourself is, “What is the right thing to do for my company’s network? Should I invest in LTE now, or do I maintain what I have for longer?” 

One of the questions network owners must ask these vendors is, “What is your plan and timeframe to help me evolve to LTE?”

The LTE Fix camp

This camp can be confusing too. These vendors elected to get on the LTE train, but their LTE locomotive cannot move.  Yes, they are LTE, but their product is not capable of mobility.  In this camp, there are two types of engines.  You have the ones that do not have mobility and will not support mobility, as the product or vendor will not be capable of mobility. 

These vendors have an LTE “Locomotive, “but no mobility, and although they may be on the LTE rails, they cannot travel and are grounded.  Soon we will not see them unless they find a path to LTE mobility.   The other type is similar but makes the promise that they will upgrade to mobility one day. Although some vendors may be able to support it and commit to making it happen; others may discover in time that they cannot. A critical factor for the players in this bucket is the hope many network owners believe they may not need mobility.  Network owners and operators need to really determine their mobility requirements, especially with so many mobile devices now available with native CBRS support such as handsets, tablets, sensors, and mobile routers for vehicles.  Yes, mobile-routers and handsets, that would mean mobility, right?   One question to ask yourself, “What will I tell my boss when he asks me why he cannot connect his smart-phone or mobile router on our new CBRS network?”

One question vendors in this camp want you to ask yourself is, “Do I need mobility or just fixed LTE?”

One of the questions network owners must ask these vendors is, “I cannot stop progress, so what is your plan, timeframe, and commitment to upgrade this specific product to support full 3GPP mobility and what will happen if you fail to do so?”

The LTE MOBILITY Camp

These are the vendors that offer the broadest range of use cases, the brightest future, the best ROI, and the least amount of risk from a network investment/lifecycle perspective.  According to different market research, 70-80% of new applications are expecting the network to support full LTE mobility. Leveraging the CBRS band with GAA or PAL and not leveraging mobility is getting on the CBRS Train, but on the last car, the one that has no wheels, grounded in the yard.  Although not 100% of the current use cases or operator environment, needs LTE mobility today, 3GPP mobility will become inevitable in industrial networks. 

The players in this bucket are of various sizes and specialties.  Some put the entire solution together, and others only offer bits of the solution.  One thing for sure, there are choices, and operators are not vendor-locked with a full 3GPP LTE mobility architecture.  As to the cost difference between fixed-only or full mobility, it is fascinating to see that the delta has become insignificant. 

*** Food for thoughts ***

If you are a network owner or operator, looking into CBRS. 

Regardless of your current environment, needs, funding, and capabilities, you should seriously consider the following.

  • 3GPP BC48 – Remember that although CBRS is a new spectrum in the USA, that spectrum meets 3GPP LTE Band class 48 specifications.  3GPP BC48 already offers an impressive ecosystem of devices for indoor, outdoor installations in the commercial and industrial IoT space.  Click for the OnGo™ Certified Devices and other valuable information.
  • CBRS PAL, GAA, or Both – Carefully evaluate if you need to rent spectrum from a PAL auction winner or just skip the PAL spectrum insurance policy and only proceed with your GAA grants.  Click for more information.
  • LTE without mobility – ask yourself if you really want to have a Private LTE network and not be ready for mobility.  Click here for more information
  • The famous 5-minute question – Some of the vendors not offering any CBRS solution may try to intimidate you a bit about the famous 5-minute rule.  You will not lose your grant after 5 minutes.  Click here for more information.
  • Private Industrial LTE VS public commercial LTE – Ask yourself if you are ok sharing a public LTE network or if you need a Private Industrial LTE network.   Click here for more information
  • Private or public LTE network. One can get confused by all the marketing information.  The fact is that it is simple at the end to know if you are on a private or public LTE network. Is your name on the sim card?  Click for more details.
  • LTE IoT Analytics – Remember that with Standards based LTE you benefit from a huge ecosystem of product, services and applications that all rely on LTE. With LTE you now can also deploy off-the-shelve IoT analytics such as PulseView™ from Cheetah Networks,  and many other applications to address various needs.
  • You need to do what is right for your company at this time, and hopefully, you can do what is also correct for the medium and long-term.  There is no one solution for every network, especially once one considers needs, environment, timing, resources, and funding.

Need more information?

Need help navigating through all of this?

Reach out, will be glad to help.

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Acknowledgments

This piece is the result of meetings and discussions with customers and industry friends who all share a passion for the wireless technologies and solutions that are at the foundation of the digital transformation of Industry.

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